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Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Tintagel (1917-19) [12:06]
Mediterranean (1922) [3:09]
Symphony No. 2 (1924-26) [36:47]
John ANTILL (1904-1986)
Corroboree - ballet suite (1946) [23:14]
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)
Tam O'Shanter op. 17a (1917) [3:05]
New Symphony Orchestra/Goossens; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Goossens (Sym 2); Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Goossens (Antill); Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Goossens (Tam)  
rec. 1928, London (Bax); 2 November 1956, live BBC broadcast (Sym 2); Sydney, 5 December 1950 (Antill); London, 31 August 1922 (Tam). mono. ADD
DUTTON CDBP 9779 [68:21] 


Goossens conducts Bax is the title of the collection but as the header of this review indicates that we also hear an Australian score as well as a very short piece by Goossens himself. 

Goossens in the 1920s was a dynamo of adventurous contemporary music-making in London. The 1930s and the early 1940s saw him in Cincinnati. After this he became the guiding light of concert life in Sydney where, until scandal intervened, he was lionised and bathed in the city's celebrity. His final years in London saw him steadily assert a modest presence on radio and in concert. This welcome collection represents him in three of the four decades. 

The Bax Second Symphony is bound to be the main draw here but more of that later. Goossens' Tintagel blazes along making all other commercial recordings including the excellent Bostock on ClassicO seem languid. This is the fastest Tintagel on record at 12:49 and one certainly senses the urgency of the passion and of the Atlantic’s glimmering fury.  There are a host of small details where Goossens accelerates and yet there is time for the sigh and for repose. The recording has had the Cedar treatment so is cleaned of aural grit and debris. If you prefer a more direct sound then try the historic Bax collection on Symposium. Mediterrranean was always something of a postcard - Bax skilfully aping the archetypal Iberian palette. However the fire of Tintagel carries over into Goossens’ live BBC broadcast of the densest, most molten and brutally intense of the Bax symphonies. While the other two Bax pieces here are from the late 1920s - commercial recordings both - this version of the Second Symphony is from the mid-1950s. It was a studio event recorded as part of a then unfashionable cycle heroically broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. In terms of commercial comparators the spirit of this reading is more  Fredman (Lyrita - soon to be reissued on CD with the Leppard Fifth Symphony) than late Handley (part of the Chandos box set). Goossens whips the BBC players into a tornado of the passions. The whole work has the headlong fury of the best performances of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini. The blast furnace rush at the end of the first movement makes a fine illustration of Goossens’ total dedication. Presumably this is also the way he played the symphony at its London premiere in the 1920s. The andante eloquently sustains the tension with a Celtic melody of deeply expressive beauty. Here I would have liked it if Goossens had slowed things down a little to relish the ineffable and masterly melody which retains undimmed the power to move and shake the  listener. This long-lined theme can be heard in a seething lapidary Klimtian haze at 5:01 onwards. The Second Symphony is a darkling work looking forward to the Second Northern Ballad. Serenade and torment are at work in one of the most beautiful melodies in all classical music. The finale is again driven within an inch of its life. Goossens, even at this stage in his career and with a freight of disappointment weighing his shoulders, would have nothing to do with routine. What a different world it might have been for Bax had the first symphony to be recorded been this one with Goossens rather than its more reflective-static and certainly less dramatic successor with Barbirolli. 

So much for the Bax title tracks. Goossens also won both fame and notoriety in Australia. Much as Benjamin introduced Vancouver audiences in the 1940s to mainstream modern works of the previous two decades so did Goossens in Sydney. He also supported native Australian composers in the most practical way. John Antill was employed by the ABC as a balance engineer. His aboriginal ballet score was written in 1946 having been inspired by a real corroboree he had attended in 1913. It created quite a stir with its colourful embracing of aboriginal culture. The music is far from avant garde but its primitivistic rhythmic material, avian voices, shamanic arcane, variegated percussive colour, insect-like brittleness and Bartókian outbursts made linkages in many directions including back to The Rite of Spring. Lewis Foreman provides the liner notes and tells us that Antill had not heard The Rite when he wrote Corroboree. Goossens premiered a suite from the music in 1946 and took it to London in October. It was performed as a completed ballet in 1950. This was the work's first recording. There have been others. 

The disc finishes with Goossens' own Tam O'Shanter. It was one of some eighty acoustics made by Goossens. His Tam is a tramping and cackling Liadov-style short tone-poem. It amounts to a grand guignol scherzo with a Scottish refrain curving in towards the end. And when it does it comes amid a Graingerian uproar redolent of Strathspey and Reel and The Warriors. 

These are all mono recordings of course. The work where there is the greatest need for the clarity and impact of a modern recording is sadly enough the one with the most fallible sound: Bax 2. It is such a shame that a proper BBC transcription disc of the Second Symphony has not survived into the hands of Dutton and Lewis Foreman. As it is the unshakable strengths of this magnificently unflinching reading of the symphony are heard as if through a glass very darkly.

Rob Barnett


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